Home Forums Sci Fi General Sci-Fi A setting idea I have had and its development

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    I’ve been working on a little project that I thought I’d try and explain and gather your thoughts on.

    I say little, but this is gonna be a long ramble. Not even close to fully fleshing this thing out to the degree I’d like.

    I think it requires a bit of a preface, because there are definitely some ideas that lead to it. In short (this probably won’t be all that short) I’ve long pondered about the story possibilities of what happens after the plucky humans beat the massively technologically superior alien invasion ala war of the worlds/independence day/xcom and so on. But in developing that idea I realised that I’d probably have to cover the before-the-after part, and that it might make for some interesting gaming. One of the things I wanted to do when establishing the game setting was to make it near-future sci-fi, as for another project I’d been working on I have had to read up a lot on what is currently in development/expected within the next 10+ years. incidentally it turns out developing a relatively hard sci-fi set in anything but the immediate near-future is really, really hard because the tech that is incoming is insane. And I didn’t want to start slapping on the ‘oh it’s the future so X does/doesn’t matter’ excuse so early in a project so for the wargame stuff the start date is 2027. It’s a fairly nice, close but not too close year.

    A lot of the side-focus in the development is working out what alien super-advanced alien tech to an already advanced society. I figured that following the example of XCOM but not totally, studying alien tech could lead to breakthrough advances in some areas. And for the post-war, the interesting bit is what manages to filter down the chain and seep into civilian life. Energy generation and storage compact enough to power a decent man-portable railgun would be an insane boost to a lot of things. Anyway, the groundwork was laid so I started added details.

    The biggest one was why the humans did not immediately lose. Followed by no psychic powers. But mostly not losing. Didn’t want to do the aliens were testing or the humans won because they were the good guys and they had to, so I started fleshing out the aliens. They have a ship. A really big ship. It’s sitting on/partly in an asteroid out in the belt. They have staging bases on the moon and around Mars. So they’re working on something without a huge armada or supply base and limited local manufacturing capability. Perhaps it’s just a merchant ship rather than an invasion vessel. Maybe it’s badly damaged. Could be several things going on. Either way, they’re not gonna be bombarding everything from the sky, Independence Day style but infiltrating, raiding and terrorising to achieve their goals, XCOM style. That keeps most of the alien gear well out of human hands too (along with it usually self-destructing as a precaution). That’s step one.

    Step two was how on Earth do the humans manage to get off Earth to really end the war? Didn’t want them reverse engineering everything so instead I came up with two words that fixed everything.

    Space. Technicals.

    Using every single possible space-ship, strapping gravity-drives stripped off of downed UFOs, lasercannon and whatever else that could be got hold of to shift a ton of soldiers out to capture the alien bases step by step. Also provides a nice turning point in the war, and could easily be reversed in case of sudden plot twist, since it’s a huge gamble and if they fail, that’s it, the war simply stalemates out. The war itself would take a few years, maybe 5 to 8, with at least 2 of those in the endgame phase and two in the build-up phase.

    Anyway, zooming back to the start of the war and we get Earth and what kind of state it’s in. Stressed would cover it pretty well. it’s creaking but not collapsing, things are messy, there’s a huge refugee crisis from bits of environmental damage in places coupled with ongoing low-key wars combined with some seriously advancing tech that is bringing it’s own issues that just add to the pile (for an example of the kind people don’t normally consider, there’s actually a serious concern about self-driving cars drastically reducing the amount of organ donors, since the biggest resource of them is otherwise healthy young people managing to get themselves killed in accidents, and one of the big hopes is that organ-printing tech is hot on the heels of mass adoption in order to mitigate that). So there’s a big problem in getting some unified effort against the aliens. In fact, it never gets fully unified, the project stalls and delays whilst local armies struggle, and only a few dozen nations eventually manage to get some sort of rapid-reaction task force together to combine their efforts. And even within that it’s spread out across a planet with all sorts of barriers to fitting some universal standards, language for one.

    But that happens and so we have the main human force. Name to be decided, still playing around with acronyms to find something that’s fitting and not terrible. So what’s this force got in it’s favour? For once, armaments that can at least reliably hurt the aliens. Environmental suits so they’re not immediately incapacitated by the Aliens biological warfare fun (using what basically amounts to Fear gas in order to ramp up how scary they are when out to terrorise populations into submission). Solid, simplified hardware that isn’t immediately crushed in utility by the Alien’s unbeatable ECM. First access to all sorts of experimental, unreliable technologies being researched and engineered to try and level the playing field at least a bit.

    For the aliens to keep this conflict workable is a bit of a challenge, they’re still ridiculously advanced. To have them not be would defeat the point. Energy weapons that carve through tanks, massive amounts of genetic and cybernetic augmentation as standard giving them great resistance to damage on top of (or rather, underneath) body armour that where it is is basically impenetrable by pretty much all small arms and many heavier armaments. With all these advantages though the limiter is that they’re still essentially Alien Redshirts, operating in small scale raids with specific objectives, not blasting apart city-blocks for the hell of it. They have limited resources, travel times and 7+ billion humans as opposition.

    As for how this plays out in wargame form, I am not sure but the goals are this:
    Use a pre-existing system (on of Ivan’s creations is looking likely) and adapt as needed to fit. The aliens may hold a lot of advantages on the individual models yet have goals and are definitely destructible, at least for long enough to take them out of battle. Gotta assume the medical tech is going to be pretty insane on their side. In gameplay they should be tough, able to destroy most things they hit (if given time), fast both in linear and vertical movement (climbing, jumping) and given a specific goal to achieve.

    The humans also help define the aliens by what they’re forced into not doing. Heavy vehicles should generally not be present due to the nature of a rapid reaction force, communications are limited, body armour worthless, reliance on drones is only able to operate over limited distances due to the ECM involved (though plenty of drones should be available anyway). Gadgetry and fancy tech is present but unreliable, recovery of live aliens and intact artefacts is of paramount concern but very difficult.

    Anyway, there’s probably more I am forgetting but that’ll do for now. How’s that sit with you all?


    Perhaps the aliens are sick and weakened? Not necessarily the War of the Worlds vulnerabilty to earthborne illnesses, but something they’ve brought with them? A plague ship or one that’s run out of vital nutrients for the alien crew. Something that is (or might be) present on Earth?

    Alexander Wasberg

    Sounds like a really cool idea, with a good twist on the usual Alien invasion scenario.

    As for rules, I would suggest Clash on the Fringe. It works beautifully for individual models and/or a few squads, and can be scaled up to a proper showdown in the end of the war if you’d like such a thing. Designing strong and unfairly though (compared to the humans anyway) aliens is a breeze and you have a good selection of weapons and equipment. Or you can design your own 🙂

    John D Salt

    Just as “what-if” games of Operation Sealion require some quasi-magical plot device to vanish away the Royal Navy, ISTM that you need a number of magic plot fairies to vanish away several elephants who will otherwise remain in the room being big and grey and wrinkly and getting in the way. I expect that these apply not just to this, but to a lot of SF settings.

    1. These aliens are advanced enough to have developed interstellar travel. Arthur C Clarke wants to know why, if they have managed this without annihilating themselves, they still have warfare.

    2. Hydrogen bombs have been around for a whie now, and a lot of countries know how to make them. Edwin Corley wants to know what “Jesus Factor” prevents them being freely used by aliens or Terrans.

    3. The Terrans are fighting from the bottom of a gravity well. Even in the absence of H-bombs, tipping quite a small rock out of orbit onto a city will make quite a mess. Robert Heinlein wants to know how the Terrans win when the aliens have the gravity gauge.

    4. The Terrans may have defeated this alien invasion, but, unless they are the shipwrecked remnant of a dying race (in which case, why not claim refugee status?) there will be more of them out there somewhere. Orson Scott Card wants to know how cadet Ender proposes to deal with them.

    I think that the failure to address obvious points such as these is one of the reasons I find so much SF gaming unsatisfactory.

    All the best,



    I think the point that some of us are missing here is the “fiction” part of science fiction. If you’re going to suspend disbelief by adding alien life, you might as well keep going.

    Idea wise, suspension of disbelief is required to make science fiction work in the first place.In my opinion, it doesn’t matter how enlightened you think you are, they’ll always be some moron who thinks that conquest is the answer, or someone who will look down on whoever they want to.

    On the subject of H bombs and meteorite warfare, even if you’ve only launched an attack for material gain, you’re going to a far higher inconvenience than is necessary- like using flamethrower to clear snails from a lettuce patch. And if it’s conquest for territory? It’s difficult to build anything in a cratered-filled ,irradiated landscape, unless it is a reminder of home (which realistically for sentient intelligence it can’t ) .


    To model the effect of Nuclear weapons on the wargaming table, apply jerry can of fuel to board, light match and stand well back.


    I think that the failure to address obvious points such as these is one of the reasons I find so much SF gaming unsatisfactory.

    I am with you on that. hence my attempt to do something with a bit more in the setting up. I could just slap down some aliens and some humans and have a bit of a shoot out and still have a good time, but I think a well crafted background enhances the experience. I have no idea if this is well crafted though, just that it is crafted.

    The answer to most of the questions is that the aliens are intentionally crippled and are sticking with their goals, though I am also trying to not make those goals too simple, just straight up conquest would be too easy because they’d hold all the advantages to do that. As to why they even have warfare, I figured that other than it being a wargame (a weak excuse really but the ultimate one when it comes to trying to make a wargame) is rather this is not a warship loaded with soldiers, but perhaps merely the security guards on a merchant vessel. They simply don’t have the capacity to do the kind of things that could otherwise be commonplace, keeping the mothership half-way across the solar system helps a lot with that. As to why they even have a merchant vessel are not just a probe loaded with the digitized personalities of a bunch of their population as an insurance policy against a planetary level extinction event on their homeworld, well, gotta have a game at the end of it not just a thought experiment. But I am in no way qualified to go full on ‘The Martian’ level of X happens in response to Y using Z for all the tech and development stuff though, I know my limitations. :p

    The point about refugees is something I was going to try and explore in the ‘what happens after?’ part. Not really so suitable for wargaming that bit, more RPG territory. But we’ve got this alien invasion that’s subtle as well as overt, with them infiltrating and coercing, bribing and trading for cooperation with the various nations and organisations on Earth. Not everyone who joined the joint project to fight the aliens may stick it out the whole way, and the recriminations against them by the nations who did is probably not going to be pretty. There’s got to be all sorts of infighting and economic upheaval resulting from the technologies gained or pushed into a viable state far sooner than expected. And the ongoing question of prisoners of war who have no-where to go. And since it’s an intelligent species, probably also defectors. Though I suspect it’d be wise to keep as many options as possible open for the sake of storytelling.


    What if the aliens have very extended life spans and reproduce at a tectonically slow rate? The psychology of horde attacks would be abhorrent to them. They just can’t deal with the casualty rates and moral is shattered. Whereas, we breed like rats.


    And what if within the alien camp there are dissenters based on the need to minimise casualties, and fragmented ideological groups that have arisen due to the low tech cockroaches (us) having handed them their arses?


    Trouble is, they NEED our planet fairly intact. And they need us gone.


    1. These aliens are advanced enough to have developed interstellar travel. Arthur C Clarke wants to know why, if they have managed this without annihilating themselves, they still have warfare.

    They have to stick together for the time being to pull the invasion off and survive.

    2. Hydrogen bombs have been around for a whie now, and a lot of countries know how to make them. Edwin Corley wants to know what “Jesus Factor” prevents them being freely used by aliens or Terrans.

    Neither side is prepared to risk fiery rad death. To the aliens, H-bomb tech is crude and unstable and dangerous to their own side. Like flaming pigs.

    3. The Terrans are fighting from the bottom of a gravity well. Even in the absence of H-bombs, tipping quite a small rock out of orbit onto a city will make quite a mess. Robert Heinlein wants to know how the Terrans win when the aliens have the gravity gauge.

    As proposed, they need the world intact, not with a ruined atmosphere enshrouded in perpetual night before the next ice age kicks in.

    4. The Terrans may have defeated this alien invasion, but, unless they are the shipwrecked remnant of a dying race (in which case, why not claim refugee status?) there will be more of them out there somewhere. Orson Scott Card wants to know how cadet Ender proposes to deal with them.

    Perhaps they were perceived to be on a fools errand by others of their kind. Or they are all there is and their psychology has no concept of refugees. Maybe the humans theorised about that during the conflict and still don’t understand why they attacked us rather than negotiating. But would we negotiate with ants to get them to leave the garden? Were the aliens shocked that we even fought back at all?

    Mr. Average

    To me, a lot of this is going to come down to alien motivation.  If they’re out for resources, there are tens of millions of uninhabited worlds to be rendered for resources without having to resort to costly and risky warfare.  If they’re out for territory, again, there are probably tens of thousands of worlds habitable to them that don’t have any pesky sapient species on them to get in the way.  The default device is that they’re a “warrior race,” but you know it could very well be that Humanity is the real “warrior race,” comparatively speaking.  As the fellow says, “The technique of violence was first developed by the Australopithecines, who, although they had no brains to speak of, nevertheless invented the tomahawk, and used it on each other.”

    So I’d delve more into alien motivation to answer some outstanding questions.  These are a few ideas.  They range in degree according to my belief of how likely they would probably be if we ever actually DID encounter an alien species:

    Option 1: The “Stanislaw Lem” – The Aliens are unknowable, with motivations that seem erratic to humans, and cannot be understood by human logic.  They do not behave according to any kind of reason that humans can perceive without major mental gymnastics, and the clash of species is a clash of modes of thought, with both sides being simultaneously intrigued and threatened by the “otherness” of their opposites.  Vide: Solaris, Eden, The Star Diaries, just about anything by Algis J. Budrys.

    Option 2: The “Arthur C. Clarke” – The Aliens think like we do, and are knowable, but have objectives that place humanity of a different order of priority from where we view ourselves.  They are not ignorant or dismissive of man, but view them as expendable or unworthy, or more benignly, as in need of control or “guidance” that humanity might not want to accept.  Vide: 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010: Odyssey Two, 2061: Odyssey Three, 3001: The Final Odyssey, Rendezvous with Rama, Rama Two, The Garden of Rama, Rama Revealed, Childhood’s End, The City of Gold and Lead.

    Option 3: The “H.P. Lovecraft” – Not only are the Aliens unknowable, they are relentlessly and universally malevolent, in ways that are so completely incomprehensible that they can’t even be understood by human consciousness, so there’s no sense in trying – that way lies madness and despair.  Humanity is probably outside their notice; if a conflict has arisen with them,  it is because humans view them or they view us as instrumental to base biological urges to feed, expand, or dominate as a territorial instinct.  Vide: At The Mountains of Madness, The Colour Out Of Space, The Whisperer in Darkness, et al.

    Option 4: The “Robert Heinlein” or The “Orson Scott Card” – The Aliens are knowable within human parameters or paradigms, and have some analogues to things or creatures we recognize.  They’re hostile to us because that’s what their species “naturally” does.  Insects consume, reptiles fight, predatory mammals hunt and kill.  Humans can on some level understand this motivation, but having risen to the top of our local food chain we also recognize the need to put it down – thus, the struggle is likely to be of the desperate, annihilating variety. Vide: Ender’s Game, Starship Troopers, The Man-Kzin Wars, A Plague of Demons.

    Option 5: The “Gene Roddenberry” – The Aliens are basically human in nature, and it is only differences in culture that divide them from humanity.  With time and understanding, they might one day be, if not allies, at least able to coexist with humanity.  However, things being what they are, they must be resisted and shown the enlightened, Democratic ways of mankind.  Alternatively, they may view humanity as primitive but worthy of intergalactic enlightenment, though humans are too primitive to understand this and view it as an attempt at imperialism.  Vide: the Star Trek opus, Earth: Final Conflict, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica. [Note that I personally find this the least satisfactory of the five for a “real” alien encounter, since it relies on them being almost exactly like us except for those areas which are caricatures – but that’s what makes for good television, not reality.  Just so my bias is clear.]

    Anyway, food for thought.  Personally, I find it unlikely that the encounter with alien would end up needing to be violent, or even tending towards violence.  They would probably be just as curious as we are, and we’d end up spending huge amounts of time on mutual study from a great distance, trying to figure out what makes the other tick, since by the time we met there’d be little if any material reason to fight for either of us, since to get to the point of an encounter would require a major leap for at least one civilization in resource technology that would render domination an obsolete form of encounter.  If an alien species were hostile, the thing to do would be simply to avoid them.  Space is utterly huge, and if they thought us a threat they could just skirt around our single pre-interstellar planet and keep an eye on us from the very edges.  If they thought anything we had to be worth taking, they could probably find it in vast abundance elsewhere, on a planet that didn’t require a biological scouring before they could strip-mine it.


    Good analysis. May I add option 6 (or possibly 5A), the “Douglas Adam” or ‘Orders are Orders’ aliens of the Vogon type, ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vogon ) fufilling instructions. If the Earth has to go, that’s just too bad……


    Alright then I’ve had a bit of a think, time to add to this mess:

    In gameplay I’d like to give the aliens an edge in destruction, not just of combatants but terrain. Energy weapons setting fire to things could easily be covered with tokens, buildings taking damage is a bit harder but specifically  my collection is built so that pretty much everything is accessible so layers can be removed or have blast marking things (debris counters?). Extreme defoliation agents would fit with the alien’s willingness to use chemical and biological weaponry to subdue and intimidate. This would mean defining what kind of terrain items would be susceptible to destruction and under what conditions; not too hard, can think of a couple of methods for that already that are not too clunky.

    Of course it’s not just the aliens who can do that, a classic tactic in XCOM is to just blow up the building/laser down the walls if you know a target is somewhere within but can’t be seen directly. Just that human basic weaponry is not going to be capable of that in the same way as high energy weapons. But terrain is usually surprisingly solid in games, and I’d like to change that up. Never really had much use for or opportunity to go collapsing structures in other games (even games that explicitly allow for it, or force it as a consequence for shooting up places with 120mm cannon and the like) so adding small-scale damage and destruction could be fun. I’ve visions of an adapted alien cargo-mover throwing cars for one example.

    I think that having even the basic rifle weapon having an additional effect or two (setting stuff on fire) would go a long way defining the alien weapons as distinct from human stuff. I should look into making supporting weapons more interesting too.

    On the fluff set-up side of things I’ve refined the start of things down to this:

    If anyone was watching, in early 2027 they would have seen a colossal starship suddenly appear in the system and travel a somewhat irregular course towards a large asteroid out beyond Mars where it appeared to deliberately beach itself. A closer inspection of the miles-long brick shaped crafted would have reveal that it was pocked with craters, some hundreds of meters across. No one was watching. No human would see this until several, long, desperate years had passed.

    The alien craft was a simple trade and exploration vessel that found itself in a very bad situation. Under attack, it had managed to perform one last barely controlled space-fold and shifted to a backwoods system that had only been charted, and not explored. Much of the on-board repair equipment had been damaged and the major drive and communications equipment needed resources that required significant manufacturing capability. Capability the ship no longer possessed. Fortunately for the aliens, there was a planet of over seven billion reasonably advanced sapient creatures nearby that would be of great use. Unfortunately, those creatures were humans and the alien’s methods were not particularly compatible.

    Plus some a couple of extra snippets I’ve been noting down to cover stuff as and when it occurs to me:

    It was eventually discovered how to capture intact armaments and other personal equipment from the aliens. A combination of intense jamming and incredibly delicate bomb disposal work to remove the self-destruct devices and separate the item from the owner. Due to the difficulty in operating them and value of the objects, no alien armament was ever carried back into battle in human hands.

    The First Autopsy Results: The Alien creature appears to have had it’s left arm cleanly severed and replaced, though signs indicate the arm is not the original. Several organs showed signs of artificial enhancement, including mechanical devices added alongside the organs. Unknown if the organs themselves were replaced from originals with enhanced grown versions, but it is within the realms of possibility. The brain and skull have obvious artificial additions, purpose unknown though there is evidence to show direct links to external hardware (the sensors in the creature’s armour and armament) exist. Known capabilities: the creatures are highly resistant to shock from injury, bleeding also appears to be minimal. Death was caused by massive trauma to major organs. The medical capabilities of the aliens are incredibly advanced, and whilst much of the biology is surprisingly recognisable in function (brain, heart, digestion system, lungs, muscles and bones), almost every part of the body appears to have been altered through artificial means.


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